Senator Graham accused of being unfairly promoted in Air Force Reserve ranks

Lt. Gen. Jack L. Rives, Air Force judge advocate general, pins the Meritorious Service Medal on Col. Lindsey Graham in a Pentagon ceremony April 28, 2009. In addition to being a U.S. senator from South Carolina, Colonel Graham is an individual mobilization augmentee and the senior instructor at the Air Force JAG School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

He’s had a lifetime of military service.  There is no question.  But a closer look at Senator Lindsey Graham’s military record has revealed that the self-described “battle-tested leader” received promotions that, some believe, he didn’t necessarily earn.

Sen. Graham (R-S.C.) holds many titles.  And while he just retired from the Air Force this summer after a 33-year career, he’s hoping to become the nation’s next commander in chief.

Sen. Graham began active duty with the Air Force in 1982. Two years later, he was assigned as a roving prosecutor in Europe.  In 1988 he left that post to become a lawyer in private practice. But he didn’t want to leave the military entirely, so Graham joined the South Carolina Air National Guard and later transferred to the Air Reserve.

His experience as a military lawyer in the 1980’s, prepared him well for his many responsibilities as a member of Congress. In the House, he served as a prosecutor during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial. As a senator and member of the Armed Services Committee, he became known for his rapid-fire interrogation of witnesses.

In 1998, he attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Six years later, President George W. Bush promoted him to colonel.

But the U.S. lawmaker now coming under fire because the Air Force gave him special treatment, granting him the privileges of rank with few expectations in return, according to the Washington Post.

To be promoted to lieutenant colonel or colonel, Air Force officers are generally expected to complete advanced courses at the Air War College and the Air Command and Staff College, according to Air Force lawyers. Graham did not complete them but was promoted anyway, according to his personnel file.

According to the Post article, Graham acknowledged he did not complete the advanced courses, and said it was unrealistic to expect a member of Congress to do so. “I’ll just be honest with you: There is no way I had the time,” he said. “If you really want to keep members of Congress and people at the level I’m serving with in the Reserves, those requirements are probably not going to be met.”

Graham said he earned his promotions to lieutenant colonel and colonel primarily based on his work as a junior officer, before he became a politician.

A spokesman for the Air Reserve Personnel Center said that “selection for promotion is based on the whole person concept, which includes performance, professional qualities, leadership, depth and breadth of experience, specific achievements, academic education, and developmental education.”

It’s listed on Graham’s bio that he worked from 2006-2015, as a senior instructor for Judge Advocate General’s School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. But many are calling that a “no-show” assignment as Air Force officials said they had no record of Graham teaching any courses on behalf of the school or even visiting it during that period. An active-duty Air Force lawyer who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “Clearly, the rules didn’t apply to him.”

For nearly a decade, it appears that Graham gave inaccurate public descriptions of certain job assignments.  Graham admitted that he never went to Maxwell Air Force Base. He told The Post, “I don’t know why they picked that title.”

In 1998, Graham also received criticism for indicating he had served in the Persian Gulf War, referring to himself in his Senate biography as “an Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield veteran.” He was never deployed overseas during that conflict, but stayed in South Carolina, where he prepared wills for those going into combat.

After he became a colonel, Graham began to dedicate more hours to the Reserve. He persuaded his superiors to allow him to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan so he could work with a Defense Department task force on detention policy.

He wanted to offer his military law expertise in Iraq after news broke about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Despite a Defense Department policy that prohibited legislator-reservists from serving in war zones, the Air Force agreed to let Graham deploy for very brief tours.  He was also used as a political fixer to “twist the arms of Iraqi and Afghan leaders who were causing headaches,” according to officials.

“Nobody who was in the war-zone billets who were doing [legal] work in Baghdad ever knew what he did,” said an active duty lawyer who spoke on the condition of anonymity.  However, other Air Force officials disagree.  “He’s a national treasure,” said Richard C. Harding, a retired Air Force judge advocate general who oversaw Graham’s duties. “His contributions were huge over there.”

It appears there was no harm done in this arrangement that both sides had. Graham was able to emphasize his ongoing military service during political campaigns, while the Air Force was grateful to have an influential lawmaker in its ranks.

The Air Force assigned Graham to a new job in 2003, as a judge on its Court of Criminal Appeals, where his workload would be unexpectedly light. But an enlisted airman who had been convicted of using cocaine argued it was unconstitutional for a member of Congress to simultaneously hold a senior government post. In 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled that the senator could not stay in the post, records show.

On the campaign trail, Graham emphasizes his role as foreign policy expert. “I have more experience with our national security than any other candidate,” he stated at his campaign kickoff.

Graham was awarded a Bronze Star last year for serving on the detention task force. He did have to retire by the age of 60, under Air Force guidelines.  Graham will receive a pension of almost $3,000 per month, the article said.


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